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The Television Is Still On!

Legendary '70s New York City "punk" rock band Television will play a handful of shows on the East Coast this week, performing at the Paradise in Boston on March 24 and then for two nights at Irving Plaza in New York on March 25 and 26.

Audiences lucky enough to catch these few and far-between gigs by the quartet who influenced such bands as U2, R.E. M., Sonic Youth and The Strokes will be treated to still-powerful renditions of "Venus," "Glory," and "Marquee Moon," among other classics from the group's storied mid-'70s heyday. The group — comprising original members Tom Verlaine (vocals, guitar), Richard Lloyd (guitar), Fred Smith (bass) and Billy Ficca (drums) — will also be playing new material including the pounding, garage-y "Squaggle," the slinky "Balloon," and the trance-like "Persia."

The quality of these recent compositions raises the question: Is a new album in the works? After all, it's been a dozen years since the band's last studio album, 1992's Television (Capitol).

Don't hold your breath, says Richard Lloyd. "We have a bunch of new songs," he admits wearily. "But don't ask me about the recording of those new songs."

Despite being somewhat active as a live unit for the past three years, for the time being Television has no plans to record a fourth album. "We're lazy," Lloyd laughs. "No, that's a bad word. We just don't care that much about what people want from us. We'll do it when we do it."

Part of the band's reluctance to record new material stems from the frustrating circumstances surrounding their self-titled third album. "The record company 'restructured' right in the middle of recording," Lloyd recalls. "It was one of those things where they sign you, and then the next day the guy who signed doesn't work there anymore. And then everybody left says, 'Where'd this come from? Why did we sign these guys?' So it was difficult."

Another problem may lie in the mercurial nature of the band's primary songwriter, Tom Verlaine, who hasn't released any new music in well over a decade. Which is too bad — the new songs sound on par with the rest of his band's esteemed catalog. Lloyd won't rule out the possibility of a future album, but he's not promising anything. "If someone wants to come along with a wheelbarrow full of money, then there might be [a new album]," he jokes. "I don't mean that in a greedy way, that's just the nature of things."

Television formed in 1973, when Verlaine and his friend, bassist/poet Richard Hell, revamped their band the Neon Boys (which included drummer Billy Ficca), and added Lloyd on second guitar. By 1975 Television was a key member of the burgeoning New York punk scene centered on the CBGB nightclub (it was Verlaine, in fact, who first convinced the club to feature live bands). Their contemporaries included Patti Smith, Talking Heads, The Ramones and Blondie. But after recording some demos with Brian Eno for Island Records, Hell left to form his own band, Richard Hell and the Voidoids. Bassist Fred Smith replaced Hell, and by 1976 the group had inked a deal with Elektra Records; Marquee Moon was released in 1977 to rave reviews in the U.S. and Europe. Television broke up in 1978 after touring behind a second album, Adventure. The band regrouped in 1992, and then again in 2001 to play a handful of shows in Europe and the U.S.

Even without a new album in the foreseeable future, the past year has been an exciting one for Television fans. In addition to live shows in the U.S., Europe, and Japan, the band's epochal albums Marquee Moon and Adventure were remastered and reissued with bonus material by Rhino Records late last year.

Lloyd thinks they sound better than ever. "The original Marquee Moon CD was pressed at a time when CD mastering was horrible. Just cruddy. The first time I ever heard it, I thought, 'Oh, fuck!' Of course the original vinyl didn't sound that good to me either. The new CDs sound much closer to what we intended. I'm pleased as punch about that."

In conjunction with the reissues, Rhino also released the mind-blowing Live at the Old Waldorf, which captures Television at the height of their onstage powers. Recorded in San Francisco during the band's final '70s tour in 1978, it also captures the band at its loudest. "That's the chainsaw heavy-metal version of the band," he jokes. "We were playing Ampeg V-4 amplifiers on that tour. They were the size of a fucking house! Keith Richards talked us into using them. The Stones were using those outdoors for stadium shows, and we were playing indoors for 500 people!"

Following Television's brief East Coast run this week, the band is planning on touring extensively in Europe this summer, Lloyd reports.

After 30 years, the original quartet of Lloyd, Verlaine, bassist Fred Smith, and drummer Billy Ficca can still make an awe-inspiring noise. Lloyd thinks the music still holds up — and he loves to play it. "There are times when I stand onstage with the band — and I think this is the case with any great rock band — and I say to myself 'People can't do this! How are we doing this?'" he exclaims. "We wouldn't be doing it if we felt any other way. It's not as if it's some sort of enormous cash cow that we can't stop milking!" — Tyler Wilcox [Monday, March 22, 2004]

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